January 1, 2022 Editor

Elizaveta Pilenko-Skobcova (Mother Maria) (1891 – 1945)

she helped the Jews by forging baptism certificates

WN: Such stories as highlighted below are immensely inspiring!

I have relatives though who insist, in kind not unlike Trump cultists, that there is “no good thing” (John 1: 46–slightly paraphrased) that comes from Christianity. Ever.

Though I have pointed them to this winsome article, On the Front Lines, by former noted CBC journalist, Brian Stewart. In it we read:

For many years I’ve been struck by the rather blithe notion, spread in many circles including the media, and taken up by a rather large section of our younger population, that organized, Mainstream Christianity has been reduced to a musty, dimly lit Backwater of contemporary life, a fading force. Well, I’m here to tell you from what I’ve seen from my “ring-side seat” of events over decades that there is nothing that is further from the truth. That notion is a serious distortion of reality. I’ve found there is NO movement, or force, closer to the raw truth of war, famines, crises, and the vast human predicament, than organized Christianity in Action. And there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good. It is these Christians who are right “On the Front Lines” of committed humanity today and when I want to find that Front, I follow their trail.

It is a vast Front stretching from the most impoverished reaches of the Developing world to the hectic struggle to preserve caring values in our own towns and cities. I have never been able to reach these Front lines without finding Christian volunteers already in the thick of it, mobilizing congregations that care, and being a faithful witness to truth, the primary light in the darkness and so often, the only light.

Apparently for my relatives, Christopher Hitchens is their last word on the matter:

Religion poisons everything!

Hence Peter Hitchens’ (brother to the above Enraged One, now deceased) testimonial: The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.

As all faith-full discover however, God has his ways  . . . (Hint: it helps in tandem to be open-minded! . . .) My sister-in-law however, pretty much each time she sees us seems hellbent–pun intended, though there is much on my website about hell that runs contrary to religious fundamentalism–on reminding us that for her part, she is running as fast as she can away from organized Christianity . . . (There are sadly enough, some forms of “eschewable” Christianity dotting the vast 2,000-year-plus, worldwide Christian landscape.)

Would that she eventually discover, like Francis Thompson in the brilliant poem, The Hound of Heaven, that there is nowhere left to run, and give into God’s unrelenting Love! Though while God is indeed relentless, as the poet eventually discovered, to date, my relative seems to be just as obstinate.

But the only hell there is, is the fire of God’s ceaseless Love poured out towards us! So there is endless hope! And Jesus of course, like hot knife through butter, descended into hell according to the great Church creeds, precisely to initiate Love-infused full Infernal Meltdown–in order to rid hell of its contents forever! Amen! And Amen!

Bluntly: Love wins!

There is in the poem this subtly altered repeated refrain:

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat—and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet—

‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

It was set to beautiful music by Anglican priest and composer Ronald Corp here. There is also a theatrical production of Thompson’s life and poetry:

For further reflection on the same relatives, but much more, please see: Easter Song and Reflections on the Resurrection. And yet another is this lengthy book review of: Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, by premier Irish literary critic Terry Eagleton. He might have been alluding to my dogmatic, fundamentalist sister-in-law (when it comes to Christianity, one of the most misinformed, intolerant fundamentalists I know), when we read in the Wikipedia article:

Eagleton has become a vocal critic of what has been called the New Atheism. In October 2006, he published a review of Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion in the London Review of Books. Eagleton begins by questioning Dawkins’s methodology and understanding: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.” [Or my (seemingly so-thought-on-matters-religious) all-knowing sister-in-law pontificating on Christianity! Sigh . . .] Eagleton further writes, “Nor does [Dawkins] understand that because God is transcendent of us (which is another way of saying that he did not have to bring us about), he is free of any neurotic need for us and wants simply to be allowed to love us.”[17] He concludes by suggesting Dawkins has not been attacking organised faith so much as a sort of rhetorical straw man:[18]

Apart from the occasional perfunctory gesture to ‘sophisticated’ religious believers, Dawkins tends to see religion and fundamentalist religion as one and the same. This is not only grotesquely false; it is also a device to outflank any more reflective kind of faith by implying that it belongs to the coterie and not to the mass. The huge numbers of believers who hold something like the theology I outlined above can thus be conveniently lumped with rednecks who murder abortionists and malign homosexuals.

There is so much more of Terry Eagleton’s response in his book to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens–“Hitchkins” in his playful lumping them together–whom incidentally my in-law quite likes.

I guess British birds of a feather . . .

Profile below prepared by the Christian Russia Foundation-Italy

Elizaveta Pilenko was born in 1891 in St. Petersburg into an aristocratic family; her home was frequented by the finest men and women of letters of the time, and Elizaveta became the friend of the great poet Alexander Blok. After her first marriage, which lasted just three years and gave her one daughter, Elizaveta Pilenko married Daniil Skobcov, with whom she had two other children, Yuri and Anastasia. With the war and the revolution she became an activist in the Socialist Revolutionaries’ Party, which led her to become the mayor of the little town of Anapa (the first woman in the history of Russia to take on such a role).

Nor does [Dawkins] understand that because God is transcendent of us (which is another way of saying that he did not have to bring us about), he is free of any neurotic need for us and wants simply to be allowed to love us.

Forced to emigrate in 1920 by the definitive victory of the Bolsheviks, Elizaveta moved to Paris. She went through a very troubled period, which culminated in the death from meningitis of her little girl Anastasia in 1926. It was precisely the tragic loss of her daughter that led her to discover a much more profound dimension to motherhood and a yearning to become “mother to everyone.” She thus decided to offer her services to the Russian Christian Students’ Movement, whose secretary she became in 1930.

Her unbridled passion for mankind led her to seek out new sons and daughters wherever suffering was most extreme and desperate: the unemployed, the marginalized and the mentally ill became her family.

In 1932 Elizaveta obtained her religious divorce and she took orders, becoming Mother Maria. She herself explained that it was not the search for sacrifice that moved her, but her love of what constitutes truth in the world, as she wrote after her daughter’s death: “No, death, I did not love you. / But what is most alive in the world: eternity. / And what is most mortal in the world: living”.

On 27 September 1935 Mother Maria (along with other great Russian intellectuals in exile, such as Nikolai Berdjaev and Sergei Bulgakov) formed “Orthodox action,” whose activities ranged from organizing conferences to offering a job or a bowl of soup to the most humble of tramps.

With the war, the Nazis and their anti-Semitic folly came to Paris. For the Christians of “Orthodox action” it was entirely natural to counteract the lies of racial persecution with “the mystery of authentic human communion, which is rooted in the communion of the Trinity;” thus they tried to help the Jews in any way they could, providing them with shelter, papers and, above all, forged baptism certificates. Repression was just around the corner: among others, Mother Maria, her son Yuri and the spiritual assistant father Dimitri Klepinin were arrested. They were all to die in the death camps.

Mother Maria died in Ravensbrück concentration camp on 31 March 1945: the day before, Easter Friday, she had offered to take the place of another woman selected for the gas chamber.

The patriarch of Constantinople canonized her on 16 January 2004.

You can find a tree in the Virtual Garden. Other Stories.

Please click on: Mother Maria

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.